The world has been focused on the Pope resigning his post due to ill health. Age waits for nobody, and I have wondered about his thoughts and admired his integrity. This is a singular event in the world as we know it today. He deserves our respect and admiration.
When I think of the Vatican, and Italy, and the streets of Rome, one bird stands out. We have seen the white doves of peace and reverence released at particular events. We see the clouds of pigeons on the streets, statues and buildings of that magnificent city. These are pretty amazing birds and my research has revealed some interesting information.
The common feral pigeon is a rock dove by ancestry. It has evolved into a “common pigeon” and is in every continent except Antarctica. They are well known for the large amount of droppings that collect in their nesting and resting areas that pose some health risk. Pigeon control is a legitimate business in most urban areas. The Nuisance Animal Control Officers (I qualified for that job a few years ago and let my license lapse) spend significant time controlling pigeons-- mostly not very successfully. There are always more pigeons to step forward when one is eliminated. They mate for life, lay two eggs several times a year, both parents incubate and nurture the young which stay in the nest about three weeks and thus have a high survival rate. The most successful natural predator of pigeons is the peregrine falcon which is faster and more agile than the pigeons. They have been introduced into some urban areas and are magnificent pigeon eaters-- and are beautiful to watch.
Pigeons have a rich history in war-- their homing instincts allowed messages to be sent in the early wars and lives were saved and battles were altered on the information carried by these birds. They can fly an average of 600 miles. There are homing pigeon clubs that have races around the world. One fast bird was purchased for $130,000. It beat 21,000 other pigeons in a race. The bird that Noah sent out to check for land when he was wanting off the Ark was a dove that did it’s job. In New Zealand, there was a pigeon mail service that even sold stamps. Each bird could carry five messages, and they average 140 mph which is only 40 percent less than commercial planes.
Passenger pigeons numbered in the billions in the early 1800s. They were hunted for their meat and plumage, and the last one (a female named “Martha”) died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. They were beautiful birds.
If you google up “white doves” or pigeons, there are businesses across the U.S. that will bring those birds to be released at weddings, funerals, etc. They are homing birds, and have to be released within a reasonable distance of the event so they go home comfortably and safely. There are very specific requirements to protect the birds.
In Barton County, we have lots of pigeons. We also have some interesting doves. The most common dove is the mourning dove which is hunted in Sept. for a few days before the first cold snap moves them south. We also have two relatively new birds-- the collared dove and the white-winged dove. They are increasing in numbers and are not migrating so we see them year-round. They are larger than the Mourning Dove in the attached photograph. Enjoy and take notice of our pigeons and doves-- they add a lot to our lives in central Kansas.
Doc Witt is a retired physician and nature lover.